Mental Practice: Tools for Teaching and Talking in the Offseason
By Jim Thompson, Positive Coaching Alliance
Winter weather means no outdoor baseball or softball for most local Little League® programs.
That does not mean Little League gets forgotten. In fact, winter is the perfect opportunity for coaches and players to work on the mental aspects of the game. Players are free from practices, which tend to focus on developing physical skills, and games, where reaction often overrides mental preparation, no matter how often you remind players to be aware of base running situations, the number of outs and the count.
Using the winter for “mental practice” prepares players and volunteers for those situations in the coming season. More importantly, it encourages conversation among coaches and parents and their players, giving players a better chance to learn life lessons - such as conversation skills and problem-solving abilities - from baseball and softball.
Whether you’re working one-on-one or bringing your entire team from last season together, pose a problem such as, “You’re playing third base with runners on first and second and one out when a slow roller is hit down the third base line. What do you do?”
One correct answer would be, “Cleanly field the ground ball and see if I can get the runner going to third. If not, throw over to first.” Because there is more than one right answer, you can keep a dialogue going, improving the team’s on-field IQ and conversation skills, while strengthening your bonds and keeping the players’ love of the game stoked even through the winter months.
The Little League rulebook offers both coaches and players an opportunity to learn and understand the rules by including A.R.s or “Approved Rulings” following various rules and regulations. The Approved Rulings are included to help illustrate and amplify the rules and regulations they follow.
Thumb through the rulebook and select a few rules and regulations. Review the Approved Rulings (A.R. - indicated by a box), then turn them into situational questions. By posing these type of questions to your players and coaching staff, they are learning the rules and regulations, and gaining a valuable understanding of how Little League umpires will interpret and apply them. Through mental practice, you and your team have a greater chance to apply the rules as part of your plan during a game. This sort of game prep it is likely to provide you with a competitive advantage, while relieving the some of the stress and anxiety that comes with having to make snap decisions.
Additional free resources from PCA are available at www.PCADevZone.org. For more ideas on getting the most out of your players while teaching life lessons, take the full-length Little League Double-Goal Coach® Course at http://shopping.positivecoach.org/Little-League-DGC, or free Little League Double-Goal Coach® Quick Course at http://www.littleleague.org/pca.